Monday, December 26, 2005

REVIEW: Wolf Creek

The dedication with which American horror fans just keep hoping that something will come along and reinvigorate the genre gets more and more touching the longer it goes on. The plain fact is that the PG-13 "horror" phenomenon, which essentially garauntees box-office paydirt for weak, lifeless wannabes or castrated remakes of genre-classics, has decimated the U.S. horror scene and almost no one is mounting a serious effort to fix this problem. For now, fans will still have to look outward: Germany, France (lately), Italy and especially Japan have been picking up our slack and then some for nearly a decade now, and now "Wolf Creek" marks Australia's latest foray onto the field.

Like last year's unjustly maligned "High Tension" from France, "Wolf Creek" aims to outgun the U.S. by putting a native spin on one of "our" signature subgenres, namely the "isolated with killer redneck(s)" setup laid down by "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" back in the 70s. It hits all the proper notes: A trio of tourists in the country, red-herring creepy locals, a torture-happy sicko with a hidden basecamp of captured autoparts, "we KNOW this place" travelogue footage and even a based-on-a-true-story pedigree.

This should have worked, this should have been a good moment in modern horror... but it's not.

The peices are in place, the filmmakers obviously know what they're doing, but the film just can't find it's own vibe: It's so determined to be "The Outback Shotgun Massacre" that it never really figures out how to be "Wolf Creek."

For awhile, there's hope. It's "pleasant" first act goes on unusually long, long enough for us to "know" to feel uneasy. The three victims-to-be are interestingly sketched with suggestions of hidden depths and don't feel like standard stock players. Early elements, like a giant meteorite-crater that (possibly) plays games with machinery and discussions of UFOs, feel fresh and welcome. The villain has an interesting energy somewhere at the intersection of Freddy, Jason and Leatherface; and he's got wicked proficiency with a decidedly un-slasher-like favorite weapon.

But it's not enough, and this becomes apparent much too quickly. We've been here too many times before, cutting through the same ropes, running from the same headlights, hiding in the same shadows of the same scrapyards, jumping at the same "surprise" emergence from the same sheet-metal shack. The dustiest of cliche's, like a pre-kill "joke" that's set up with crushing obviousness or the innability of good guys to locate suitable weaponry in a junkyard full of jagged metal, start to crop up with head-slapping predictability; as do newer cliche's such as "this is like a horror movie" self-awareness and (groan) camcorder footage.

I've no doubt Australia will soon produce a film to put it on the short-list of national cinemas making great horror films, they're film culture is too interesting not to. But "Wolf Creek" isn't it.

FINAL RATING: 3/10